OPEN MINDS Series
Gallery - Manchester, England
Presented at The Holocaust Seminar
I was fortunate enough to be invited on 9th April as a member of a small non-Jewish party by the Manchester Jewish community to accompany them on a monumental visit to Auschwitz-Birkeneau to commemorate the 6 million victims who were ruthlessly persecuted. I was deeply honoured and excited but also filled with an intense sense of foreboding and dread. Having previously witnessed the horrors of other Nazi camps I was well aware of what lay in waiting.
Lisa and Fellow Students
I spent three weeks desensitising and equipping myself for this confrontation with the darkest period of humanity. However, no amount of preparation could have prepared me for what was to come. The sheer enormity was completely overwhelming, what I saw and experienced there were indescribable.
We were taken into the barracks, selection platforms and the actual original gas chambers where 3 million men, women and children were murdered. What we saw would have made us lose all faith in humanity, there were enormous glass cases, about the size of this room, just piled full of human hair or shoes, only a fraction of the total toll. But there are many valuable lessons to be drawn from this lowest ebb in our history.
Auschwitz is the largest graveyard and memorial to cruelty, malice and inhumanity. It is the largest monument to brutality, spite and hatred that man has subjected against any man.
It is generally recognised that the Holocaust was a tragically defining episode of the 20th Century, a crisis for European civilisation and a universal catastrophe for humanity. It shook the foundations of modern civilisation and its unprecedented character and horror will always hold universal meaning.
Perhaps the most inexplicable of all the aspects of the Holocaust - the question that forces us to come to grips with the very meaning of the word "civilized" - is the realization that took place in the twentieth century and was the work of supposedly "cultured," "civilized," and highly educated Germans.
"The death camps," as Franklin Littell pointed out, "were designed by professors and built by Ph.D.s." Nazis tortured by day and listened to Wagner and Bach at night. They put down a violin to torture a Jew to death. They used their advanced scientific knowledge to murder on an industrial scale. It came at the hands of those we would have been certain were incapable of committing such atrocities and it forces us to rethink the meaning of culture not rooted in a religious or ethical foundation.
The question is not how or why people who were so evil could inflict acts so inhumane upon others, but to ask how ordinary people such as you and I could allow such acts to happen.
Thus it is vitally important to raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust as a continuing issue of fundamental importance for all humanity. Ensuring that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimisation committed are neither forgotten nor repeated. This restates the continuing need for vigilance in light of the troubling repetition of human tragedies in the world today.
Events like March of the Living provide an international focus for educating subsequent generations about the Holocaust and the continued relevance of the lessons that are learnt from it. Highlighting the values of a tolerant and diverse society based upon the notions of universal dignity and equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens, free of the evils of prejudice, racism and other forms of bigotry.
We need to strengthen our similarities and celebrate our differences. Each person should be recognized and applauded for his or her distinctive qualities. How each of us look, our heritage, race, religion, sexuality ethnicity uniquely helps define our identity.
However, humanity is still scarred by the belief that those features make some people's lives worth less than others'. Genocide, anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination still continue. We have a shared responsibility to fight these evils.
We also have to realise that the type of behaviour demonstrated in Nazi Germany was not a phenomenon limited either to Germany or to the mid-Twentieth Century.
Events in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Kosovo, to name but a few, amply demonstrate the propensity of human beings to murder en masse. Persecution and mass death will almost inevitably form a part of the future of human behaviour too.
Therefore we need to emphasize the importance of speaking out and taking action to create a better understanding of others and to be positively involved in our society, government and world. And to promote understanding and tolerance in order to combat the processes that lead to such tragedy.
As one survivor poignantly reminded us of the price of ignorance
"They came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a communist;
They came for the socialists, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a socialist;
They came for the union leaders, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a union leader;
They came for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a Jew;
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me…"
So let us try to understand, accept and learn to love each other and hope that those millions did not die in vain.
By Lisa - Manchester, England
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